Stephen Glover on The Press

The paparazzi are the dark side of a free press, but they are not killers
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Enoch Powell famously wrote that "for a politician to complain about the press is like a ship's captain complaining about the sea". I think he was right. We can grumble about journalists and newspapers, and we can even hate them, but in a free society their collective presence is a fact of life.

I feel very much the same about paparazzi, whose antics, some still maintain, caused the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the 10th anniversary of which falls this week. We can pass laws to ensure that they do not take photographs in private, but we cannot prevent them from operating in public (see my second item). Film stars and royalty have to learn to live with paparazzi, and to avoid them whenever possible. They can't escape them.

Diana's mistake, it seems to me, was to try to feed the beast. She often used the paparazzi when it suited her. According to Phil Hall, a former editor of the News of the World, speaking on ITV1's Diana's Last Summer, Diana once rang his paper to say that she and her sons would shortly be visiting McDonald's in High Street Kensington. A photograph duly appeared in the NoW. She was on close terms with several tabloid journalists and editors, and she co-operated with Andrew Morton, a former red-top hack, whose book blew the lid on her marriage.

Of course, she only succeeded in increasing the appetite of the paparazzi, and those newspapers and magazines which wanted to run their pictures. On her last holiday with Dodi Fayed she appeared happy, even eager, to pose for photographers, but by the time they reached Paris the mood had changed. The paparazzi were, however, not willing to call a truce, and pursued the couple until their tragic end.

Earl Spencer, Diana's brother, famously said that the press had killed her, and I do not believe that he has retracted the charge. Many others probably still think that. It is complete tosh, of course. Dodi and Diana could easily have stayed at the Paris Ritz that night. Having made the foolish decision not to do so, they could have driven at 30mph. If the paparazzi had snapped some more pictures, so what? They already had lots of them.

Someone said during Diana's Last Summer that if there had not been any paparazzi the car would not have driven at breakneck speed, and there would have been no accident. But there was no need for the journey, and certainly no need for the inebriated Henri Paul to drive like a racing driver. Dodi, the playboy who had dabbled in films and loved fast cars, was surely the mainspring of that mad, confected chase.

If only we lived in a world without paparazzi and a world without rough seas, but we don't. Paparazzi are the dark side of a free press; they will exist so long as there are people who want to see their pictures. Phil Hall said that he felt some retrospective guilt, but if he could go back again to the News of the World I don't suppose he would act differently, and if he did he would be sacked. It is, to adapt Enoch Powell, as childish to blame the paparazzi for the deaths of Dodi and Diana as it would be to blame the wind if they had died at sea.

JK Rowling and others attempt to magic up a privacy law

A number of lawyers, aided by some judges, are trying to develop Article Eight of the Human Rights Act into a full-blown privacy law without Parliament having any say. This movement received a setback two weeks ago as a result of a judgment by Mr Justice Patten in the High Court.

The author JK Rowling and her husband brought an action against Big Pictures (UK) Limited on behalf of their young son. In 2004, when he was less than two years old, his picture was taken by a photographer in a street in Edinburgh without his parents (or, of course, the boy) being aware. This picture duly appeared in the Sunday Express magazine, along with some thoughts by JK Rowling on motherhood, which she had in fact uttered some years earlier about another child.

No distress was caused at the time to JK Rowling, her husband or their son. Nor was the picture intrusive. Nonetheless, the case was brought on the basis that the child was not a famous person, being only the son of one, and had a right not to be pictured in a public place without his permission (or, in this case, his parents').

The judge ruled against this nonsense. He drew a distinction with the case of the model Naomi Campbell vs the Daily Mirror, upheld in the House of Lords. Ms Campbell had also been pictured in a public place, but in such as way as to show that she was attending a rehab clinic, and therefore her privacy was said to have been invaded.

Mr Justice Patten could not override that precedent, but he judged that in normal circumstances it is not an infringement of privacy to take a photograph in a public place without the permission of the subject. However, I doubt we have heard the last of this.

Hit-and-run victim of the silly season

In May, Craig Muskett, a 12-year-old boy, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Stockport. His cycle was hit by a van, which drove away. The incident was widely reported.

Last week, the driver whose van struck Craig Muskett's bicycle was convicted by a court in Stockport. Magistrates heard that Nathan Ball had convictions for driving while disqualified and without insurance. They gave him a seemingly light sentence of 200 hours of unpaid work, plus a four-month driving ban, for failing to report the incident.

A deeply affecting story, I would argue, which suggests a worrying leniency. And yet it was covered in detail only by the Daily Express. The Sun ran a few lines; other national newspapers ignored it.

Could someone explain to me why, in the dog days of August when news is thin, this story should have been considered so unimportant?

scmgox@aol.com

Comments